Part Five - Meaningful Words
Your life story
This is, perhaps, the most important aspect of any funeral ceremony – sharing someone’s life story in a meaningful, relevant, accurate way. It’s certainly the part I spend most time on in terms of questions I ask when visiting a family, when I’m writing the ceremony, and delivering the ceremony on the day. Because how can we remember a life, celebrate a life, say farewell to a life, without first reminding everyone what that life meant – to the person themselves and to their loved ones?
We all mean different things to different people. Family and friends will share their feelings about their loved one with me when I meet them. They may also decide to share those feelings and memories with everyone else, in person, on the day of the funeral, rather than ask me to speak on their behalf. And it’s wonderful to have that perspective. They can take comfort, and pride, in being able to pay tribute to you, while everyone else can call to mind their own memories and, hopefully, learn something new about you too. BUT what would be equally – perhaps even more – meaningful would be to know what your life meant to you. What were your most significant events, achievements and experiences? Who mattered to you? How would you like to be remembered? And, of course, you already have all this information at your fingertips because we covered so much of this in Part One.
I’ve listed again some of the main headings and questions we covered earlier, to help you. Remember it would be nice if you could share these memories with your loved ones in person. People regularly tell me “I wish I’d asked Dad about his school days” or “I’d love mum to have told me how she met my dad”.
And if, during this process, you recalled old friends, colleagues, neighbours, who you are still in touch with, make sure your family have contact details so they can be notified when the time comes and have the opportunity to come and say farewell to you on the day.
- Where and when were you were born?
- What were you parents names?
- Where did you grow up?
- Do you have brothers and sisters?
- Any specific early childhood memories?
- Where did you go to school?
- What did you enjoy and what did you dislike?
- Can you name any friends?
- Did you go on to further education?
- Any particular qualifications?
- Were there any formative experiences?
- Any influences on your career choice?
- Has there been a significant other, or others, in your life?
- How and where did you meet?
- Did you marry? If so, where and when?
- Do you have children? Are you a grandparent?
- Any other important relationships in your life – parents, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews?
- Are there friendships which have meant a great deal?
- Memorable pets?
- What have you spent your working life doing?
- Any particular employers or organisations?
- What have you enjoyed most?
- Any jobs you really disliked?
- Any memorable bosses or colleagues?
- Any work memories you’d like to share?
- Proud moments?
- Do you have any particular interests, hobbies, talents?
- Have you enjoyed music, gardening, sport, cinema, reading, crafts, TV shows, socialising, theatre, fitness, cooking, walking…
- Any clubs, groups, volunteer organisations you’ve belonged to?
- Where in the UK/World have you lived and worked?
- Where have you travelled to?
- Any memorable holidays or overseas experiences?
What have you been most proud of in your life?
How would you describe yourself?
- If you had to describe yourself in five words – capturing you character and qualities – what would you say?
- What have your values been in life?
- What has mattered most to you?
How would you like to be remembered?
- Is there something in particular you’d like to be remembered for?
- Any associations people may make with you?
- Any sayings you had that you’ve been known for?
Poems and Readings
Sometimes, the feelings you have or the things you want to say can be found, encapsulated beautifully, in the words of a poem, reading or piece of prose. If you have seen something that reflects these sentiments, or you have a favourite poem or piece of writing that you have always loved, then write down the name of the piece and its author and keep a copy with your notes. You may like to have it read at your ceremony or perhaps hear a lovely audio version – plenty of classic poems and novels have been recorded by the likes of Judi Dench or Alan Rickman. A favourite piece of prose read by a favourite performer would certainly be a nice touch.
A personal message
People often ask me what is the most moving or meaningful aspect of being involved in a funeral ceremony. And I think, alongside the privilege of helping people say farewell to their family and friends, is the opportunity to also speak on behalf of their loved one. During my time as a funeral celebrant I’ve shared messages – sometimes from people I’ve met who have been terminally ill, or people I haven’t met but who have asked for their words to be shared on the day. This is always very powerful and emotive – first of all for the people gathered together who may not have expected such a message, and secondly for me because I need to do justice to those words while, at the same time, keep my own feelings in check. But I can safely say, hand on heart, it has always been an incredible moment for everyone involved.
Do you have a message of love, comfort, hope, or gratitude you’d like to share with your family and friends? Perhaps telling them what they have meant to you, and what your hopes are for their lives to come? It’s not an easy thing to write… where on earth do you begin? But even a sentence or two may make all the difference to how people feel on the day, and how they learn to live without you. Perhaps you could share a few of those words of wisdom, which we discussed in Part One.